TTTV062: Irina Gorin on Teaching Beginners - Creative Music Education
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TTTV062: Irina Gorin on Teaching Beginners

By Tim Topham | Early Childhood

Oct 14

teaching beginners

Irina Gorin is famous in the piano teaching world. Irina’s YouTube videos of her teaching have helped and inspired so many teachers, especially when it comes to teaching technique.

Irina Gorin

Irina didn’t always feel so confident teaching beginners. When she first moved to the USA and used traditional method books, they always felt a bit…lacking. The five finger positions used in these method books didn’t set her students up for success at the piano.

Tales of a Musical Journey is a unique piano method in many ways. Irina’s approach to technique, and narrative style is engaging and effective in teaching beginners. Her use of props helps young children connect to tension free piano playing.

I hope today’s podcast will inspire you to think a little differently about how you teach your beginners. I know we can learn a great deal from Irina’s experience.

Transcript

Please find a full transcript of this episode at the bottom of this page. Alternatively, click below to download a PDF. If you are an Inner Circle Member, you can find the full video and transcript in the Member Resources AreaNot a member? See below for how you can get $50 off your membership today. 

In this episode, you’ll learn

  • What prompted Irina to get started on YouTube
  • They key difference Irina noticed between Ukraine and USA piano teaching
  • How Irina came to create her own method books
  • When music education should begin
  • How Irina assesses a child’s readiness for piano lessons
  • The piano parents’ role in Irina’s studio
  • How pre-reading fits into Irina’s philosophy of teaching beginners
  • Beginning improvisation tips and tricks

Links Mentioned

Podcast Video

piano teaching education

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Thank you for Tuning In!

There are a lot of podcasts you could be tuning into today, and I’m grateful that you’ve chosen mine.

Being a full-time teacher myself, I know how busy teachers are and how much time, effort and passion we put into our students. Sometimes, the last thing we want to do in our time off is listen to more piano teaching stuff! So, well done for using this time for self-improvement.

Whether you’re at the gym, on the bike or in the car, I know that you and your students will get lots out of what you learn in the long run. Just make sure you try out some of the ideas before they get lost in the business of your next lessons.

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Full Transcript

Click here to read a full transcript on screen

Tim: Irina, it's so good to have you on the show. I've been wanting to speak with you for probably a year or thereabouts. Thank you very much for coming along today.

Irina: Of course. Thank you for having me here.

Tim: Now, you're basically a YouTube superstar in the piano teaching community. Your videos have been an inspiration to many, many teachers. What made you decide to open up your studio and record your teaching?

Irina: The first idea was not to record my teaching. When my daughter was gonna end her piano lessons, I knew it's gonna happen soon, and she played recital. I decided to record her and keep it for my memories. It was my very first video, my 12-year-old daughter playing her last recital. I started to upload it. I was very new to YouTube. At that time, it was 9 years ago. I uploaded, then my students saw it, and I decided to upload some of my students. And as I have a lot of students whose relatives live out of U.S.A., it was very convenient for them to show their progress to their relatives abroad and in different states, different cities. So that's how it started, and then I made, for each student, I made a playlist, so now people can watch their progress from like nine years ago till today.

Tim: Oh wow, I didn't know you did that.

Irina: Yes, yes.

Tim: Oh wow, okay. We'll make sure we put a link in our notes to your YouTube channel, because I'm sure other people would find that fascinating. I certainly learned heaps from you about what is possible for teaching really early young children. And this month on the podcast is all about teaching the youngest children, and you have just such an amazing style. I think every teacher who's watched your video will agree with that. In fact, what I might do, I might actually insert one of your videos, a little snippet of your teaching into the podcast right now when I edit it, okay? So everyone can have a look at your teaching.

Irina: Alright.

Tim: Okay. So can you tell us how you got started teaching?

Irina: I started piano lessons when I was 5 years old, and I was doing very well, and by the time I was in fourth or fifth grade, my teacher used to leave me with her students to help them to practice while she was getting lunch.
Tim: I wish I could do that.

Irina: Yeah. But it was different system of education. It was music school.

Tim: What country were you in? Where did you grow up?

Irina: I was born and received my training in Ukraine.

Tim: Great.

Irina: I thoroughly enjoyed it, even when kids were older, I enjoyed so much to sit next to them and point to their mistakes. I had very good sight reading skills, and it was easy for me. Of course, I didn't talk to them about musicianship. It was very simple work. Since then I decided I really want to be a teacher. And I started teaching my neighbor kids without any pay, just because I loved it so much. So when time came and I got into music college, it was about 16 years old, I started observing a lot of teachers' work, and it was very interesting. I got my first students when I was 17.

Tim: Your first formal, your official students?

Irina: Official students, yes. And even though I thought I knew everything about piano teaching by that time, first lessons were a disaster. Especially in Ukraine at that time, we didn't have any supplemental materials. We were not supposed to be creative. The lessons started with showing kids all notes on the treble clef staff, then all the notes on the bass clef staff, and now we are playing.

Tim: Right. So that's it, straight into reading, bang.

Irina: Right, right. So it was very hard for many kids, and they struggled, and I struggled. And I didn't know. I started creating my own stories, but there was no system to that. And all our method books, which are not method, they're just selection books, they didn't give us ideas what to do. They just had pieces, and the difficulty level increased very quickly. It was really hard, really hard.

Tim: Yeah. It would be very hard to inspire students I would have thought.

Irina: Yes, yes. When I came to United States and saw all these methods, I was shocked. I was shocked. I was so excited. I couldn't wait to start. I'm very grateful I found them, because first of all, they helped me a lot with my English. Because when I came to United States in 1993, I could read and understand, but I couldn't speak.

Tim: Oh, wow. Okay.

Irina: Yeah, I was studying English, but without practicing, it was impossible. I started teaching with Alfred and Bastien and Hal Leonard, and Faber and Faber, which became with the time my favorite. But very soon, I realized that my students don't do really well technically or say tuning-wise, or say didn't have any musicianship skills. And since then, I was researching very long and hard to find a way, and to find out why it happens, what's different. How different it is.

Tim: Go on. I'm really interested to hear what happens next. Let's keep the story going. You just go with it.

Irina: Okay. Do you know this research and remembering how I was taught, and how I taught my students in Ukraine, I found that the main difference here in the United States was approached as a piano with five-finger position.

Tim: Okay. So that wasn't what they did in the Ukraine?

Irina: No. Absolutely not.

Tim: Right. So they start with the whole range of notes, whereas in the States, and probably Australia too, they start with a, just a small selection of notes.

Irina: That is different. The difference is no matter how many notes you had in Ukraine, you played all of them with only finger number three.

Tim: Whoa. Okay.

Irina: Without even any other fingers, because this the longest and the strongest finger on our hand and it can support the whole arm weight. And when you play with finger number three, first of all, you have to use your wrist, because you need to move from note to note, and you develop a balance. You develop central position. Your hand can move in all direction. Your arm and wrist can move in horizontal, vertical directions. Otherwise, with five-finger positions, when young kids, especially when we start teaching four-year-olds, and even younger than that, with their small hands, when they catch five notes at the same time, already, even this movement already creates tension in their hand.

That's something that we are trying to get rid of and teach them to relax. But from the first moment they put their fingers on the five keys, they create tension. And they cannot use wrist in either direction, because they just tap their fingers.

Tim: So you're talking about the difference between moving...If you just play with one finger, you have to move the whole arm and the wrist and this sort of thing. Whereas if you are using sequential fingers, this is where trouble comes when they're first learning. Is that right?

Irina: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah.

Irina: Besides, usually in that age, if you're a young age, kids' muscles, fine muscles are under-developed yet, so it takes meticulous job to develop their wrist motion and arm and playing with finger number three for a little while until they feel freedom of the upper body, and then we include finger number two and number four, and the last come number one and number five.

Tim: Right. Okay. Interestingly enough, I've started exploring "Piano Safari" this year. And one of the things that they really push from their research is for early beginners to not try and play with a legato touch. To just detach notes, and that's totally fine, to get the wrist position correct, and just get that more relaxed approach to the piano. Sounds like you do the same thing.

Irina: Exactly. Leschetizky said... Leschetizky, who was a student of Czerny, who was a student of Beethoven, and he was a founder of Russian School of piano playing, even though he is Austrian born, Austrian-Polish pianist. The interesting fact that Russian School was able to keep this tradition, but European or other schools didn't. That's why we call it now Russian School.

Tim: Interesting. I didn't know that. I've heard of the Russian School, but I didn't know that was one of the defining features. Now that I've experienced this concept with one of my students, I can see it has great benefit. But I must say as a teacher, when I demonstrate things, I really have to remember to have this detached touch. I'll naturally just play everything legato, and then he'll try and copy me. So I've got to be really careful when we model things like that.

Irina: I did try to do it with existing methods first, but kids so get glued to the keys, and they are afraid to lose their position of the finger, and it's practically impossible. I struggled for probably 10 years before I decided to work on my own method. And the younger children are, the harder it is. I mean even with adults, it's the same thing until, as Leschetizky said, the wrist take...has the easiest and the shortest way from key to key.

Tim: Say that again.

Irina: The wrist takes our hand from key to key the shortest and the easiest way.

Tim: And can you show us how, in the camera, how you approach the correct movement of just one finger?

Irina: Do you see me?

Tim: Yes, yep.

Irina: So you play one note, and then we go to the next note. Relax, and after each note, we must relax our wrist.

Tim: Yep. It's great, yeah. I can see that beautiful flow that you work on with your students in your videos, which I love. I can see it right in what you're doing there. Just before we go on, and I wanna find out more about your approach. What made you go to the USA?

Irina: I immigrated with my family.

Tim: Right, okay. So how old were you then?

Irina: I was almost 30 years old.

Tim: Okay, yeah. Fantastic. And how come you didn't come to Australia? No, you don't have to answer that. Too far away. Now, you've mentioned musicianship a few times. And you've said that's one thing that the American approaches have. Is that right? I think that's what you were saying. Well what do...

Irina: Yeah, go ahead.

Tim: I was just gonna say, what do you see as musician...What are you calling musicianship? What kind of things?

Irina: Tone production, one of them. So kids, from the very early stages, I work with them on different tones. Of course, it's impossible if kids are starting on electronic keyboard. So none of my students play electronic digital pianos, because it's just a waste of time.

Tim: And that's right from the beginning, Irina?

Irina: Right from the beginning, yes. From the very first lessons, when I have a student on the first lesson, they are trying to make happy sounds and sad sounds, quiet sounds, and loud sounds. And I am asking them, "What do you think you did differently this time? Why does it sound differently?" So this is obviously impossible to do with digital piano. I also use a lot of supplemental toys, which we can...like Noise Putty. We can press our fingers in the Noise Putty, and they feel the slow and resistant penetration, so they don't knock on the keys.

Tim: Is it actually called "Noise Putty?"

Irina: Yes.

Tim: You can buy it, it's called that?

Irina: Yes.

Tim: All right. There you go. Is that an Amazon kind of thing?

Irina: You can find it on Amazon. You can find it at the...It's an international company called Oriental Trading. They sell in bulk.

Tim: Oh, great. Okay.

Irina: Yes. Another thing about musicianship, even playing with one finger a melody, you can still shape this melody as a phrase. And its first step, you create their hearing of the phrase, where it starts, where it ends, where is the culmination, where is the peak of this phrase. And then when they start playing legato, they're already ready for that. I use a lot of playing by ear on all of my students...

Tim: So them listening to you playing something, or a recording, and they try and copy it? How does that work?

Irina: I use Piano Explorer Magazine. Clavier company, they have magazine for kids, Piano Explorer. Every month they have featured composer. So for example, this month, it's Mozart. And for every lesson, I prepare a worksheet with questions, what they read about Mozart, a fun fact they have to list. I ask them questions about the composer, about the instruments, about the era, about time period they lived. And this magazine also has online page, where they can listen to the musical examples. And I ask kids to listen. For example, this week, they're listening to "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," and I ask them to pick up by ear the main theme.

Tim: Right.

Irina: Even the youngest one can do a little bit. Of course, with youngest, I help a little bit, but I have kids who do hands together at once even at eight, nine years old, and I think it's wonderful for them.

Tim: That magazine was called "Piano Explorer."

Irina: Yes.

Tim: Is that made by or part of Clavier Companion? Is that what you said?

Irina: Yes.

Tim: Great. Okay, great. So we'll put links to all this, and the Noise Putty. We'll put some links in our show notes for where people can find these things, because I love hearing about different tools and things. You also, I remember distinctly, and I've used this myself, saying you use a big loop, like a rubber band with students...

Irina: Yes.

Tim: ...to kind of get that freedom of motion in the wrist. I couldn't find one exactly like that, but I found a hair band, a big fluffy hair band, and it didn't have the same effect.

Irina: You can buy them at any store. It's just an elastic hair band.

Tim: It is an elastic hair band. Okay, there you go. I'll compile a little list where people, where they can get these things, because once they see you in action using the putty as well, I remember seeing that, they're gonna love it. What kind of ages do you teach these days? What's the full spectrum?

Irina: When I was in Ukraine and worked at music school, we started with six-year-olds. But when I came to United States, the demand to teach four and five-year-olds is very big, and it was very scary for me until I developed my own method. There was one year when five of my students, existing students, brought their four-year-old siblings. I was so scared to start teaching them. I didn't think any of the method would help me, especially with young kids, who are like sponges. If you teach them something wrong, it will stay forever.

That's when I decided to write my own method using stories, fairy tales, so they can develop a system of understanding, and build up their knowledge of musical concepts. I used some exercises for ear training, and for improvisation, for composition, and it just helps me to deal with in systematic way. I used to...I mean in Ukraine, I used to teach with those books, but I had...With every new piece, I had to explain many new concepts at once, which was very hard. Right goes step-by-step, adding one note at a time, adding one finger at a time. And it might seem that it goes really slowly, but depending on students, I have one student right now who had two years of violin lessons before she came. So I went with her through my series practically in three months, and now she is in classical repertoire. She is smart seven-year-old. Now, my youngest student is four and a half. I started with her when she was not even four.

Tim: Wow, okay.

Irina: And my oldest one right now is in 10th grade.

Tim: Right.

Irina: I used to teach adults, and 10 of my students are musicians right now, and piano teachers.

Tim: Ten of your recent students.

Irina: My graduates, yes.

Tim: Wow. That's amazing. You should be really proud of that. That's a huge number, I think.

Irina: Yeah.

Tim: What age...what do you think is the best time to start music education? And that doesn't actually necessarily mean piano? And I'll ask you the question of when do you think it's good to start formal piano lessons? When do you think is the best time to start music education with young children?

Irina: I think music education should start in the mother's womb.

Tim: Right.

Irina: Kids have to be exposed to all kinds of music at all times. Again, going to my past, all children were going to preschools, and it was full-time preschools until they started school, and every day they had music lesson, where we had to sing, recite poems, dance, move with music, play noise instruments. So when I went to music school and took exam, I was fully prepared for that, because it took at least five years, since I was one years old till six years old, before I started formal private lessons. I think kids these days are really, really lacking that.

Tim: Yeah. So even for any parents that might be listening of very young children, even singing to your child, listening to music, just having music around is important.

Irina: And moving with music, dancing is very, very important. Reciting expressively the poems, the rhymes with expression. Role playing is very important. Even when parents read kids children's books, I recommend to use different voices so they can relate to all these different intonations and different colors.

Tim: Different...yeah.

Irina: Yes.

Tim: Yep. It starts getting their ears tuned, for want of a better word.

Irina: Hear and develop feel of the rhythm, hear and develop hearing of the pitch. And it takes a long time. But again, when I was a child, it was quite different.

Tim: So are you finding that children these days are coming to you less musically prepared?

Irina: Absolutely, absolutely.

Tim: I think the same too, and yeah, it means that our job is, well, it's harder in some ways, but it means we have to do more of the basic work. But unfortunately, it just kind of delays things, because it hasn't happened earlier I guess. Yeah.

Irina: Right.

Tim: And what about more formal piano lessons? What age do you think?

Irina: That's very individual. As I said, I have a four-year-old who is doing wonderfully, but I used to have students who were eight and nine, and it was very hard for them. So it depends on many factors. I mean, there is a physical age, and there is a different age, maturity age for each kid. When I select students, and I have chance to select students right now, first of all, I look at their maturity age. I don't really care what physical age they are. I check if they know letters and numbers, if they can stay focused on some tasks for five or more minutes, then they can draw, or listen to the stories. My main factor when I select the student if parents are committed and ready to practice with students every day. This is the most important factor. I probably select more not by student, by parent.

Tim: Yeah, that's great. Well look, I was just about to ask you about the role of parents in young students' lessons. So for you, this is fundamental. They have to be willing to practice with their students, and help them...their child, sorry, and help them practice. Do they also sit in on the lesson and watch and absorb?

Irina: They not only watch, they take notes, and they video record.

Tim: Right. Every lesson?

Irina: Every lesson. It helps to students too, because sometimes when kids get a little older, they start argue with parents, that, "My teacher didn't tell me that, and why you are telling me that?" So they can have a proof, here is the video. That's what you did on the lesson.

Tim: So the parents are holding a phone? Or do they use your recording and you send it to them?

Irina: No. I have a tripod for iPad. Now, every family has an iPad or iPhone, and it holds it, and just to record the lesson. And it's very easy to navigate, because on iPad, you don't have to download it anywhere, and I think you just go through and find. And also, they separate, like when you work on one piece, they make one recording, other piece another recording, so it's really easy to watch them.

Tim: And so they just press stop, and then they'll press play again sort of thing.

Irina: Yeah. Yeah.

Tim: Do you think you could have the success that you have with your students without the parents?

Irina: Absolutely not. Parents are my assistants. Sometimes with very young children, I put parents in students' chair, and show them how it feels, and I take students' hand, so they can experience it. And that's what they need to watch, because if kids, especially some kids have once a week lesson, I usually require twice a week lesson from beginners. But, most of the kids have once a week lesson, and if they practice the whole week wrong, it...

Tim: It's a waste of time. Yeah, and it's really hard to fix.

Irina: Absolutely, yeah.

Tim: Really hard to fix. So your parents must be, yeah, they must be very willing to learn. They must be incredibly supportive, and yeah, it sounds absolutely crucial. Which we all know is the case, but it's very difficult often to find parents who are willing to do this. So before you got to a position where you could choose your students, how...I assume when you first started it was perhaps a bit harder for you to get parents involved. Have you got any tips for teachers who are listening, who would love the parents to be more involved, but are having trouble with that?

Irina: Of course, parents are lacking education. They don't know what to expect when they start piano lessons. A lot of parents call me inquiring of piano lessons and asking, "Okay, we have like two-octaves electric keyboard. We just want to see if he has an interest."

Tim: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I hear that a lot.

Irina: Yes. So if I hear things like that, I tell them, "I'm sorry, I don't teach this way, and I have different approach." I explain, and if they're willing, I invite them to an interview. And on this interview, I use all time needed to educate them, and let them know what to expect. I don't want them to think, oh, they're gonna drop off their kid and pick them up in half an hour, and that's it. I explain very, in details how I need them. And there is no progress gonna be expected if they are not at the lesson all the time.

Tim: That's great. And I assume you get some parents who will at that interview go, "I'm really sorry, I can't afford that time. I might have to look for another teacher." Does that happen? Just because you're upfront? Or most of them know you now, and they know what to expect?

Irina: If they come to my interview, they already know what to expect. A lot of them come through referrals from my other students. And again, if they call and inquire through website, or just to find out, just shopping around, I, before I invite them to interview, I already explain what kind of commitment they have to expect.

Tim: Great. Okay. Well look, I'm really interested to hear about your method. I've heard of it. It's called "Tales of a Musical Journey." And in actual fact, I was running a workshop in Sydney over here in Australia yesterday, and one of our teachers mentioned it. And I thought your ears should have been ringing. Tell us a little bit...You've told us why you started it, and some of the main differences. Can you gives us some background to what it's like to use? Because I understand that teachers can choose to try your method themselves.

Irina: Yes. This method is solely based on this approach of playing with finger number three. I tried to combine the best innovations of method books of 20th century. It has a lot of artwork. It has fairy tales, because for kids, it's much easier to remember when the same characters go through the whole book. These books have a lot of suggestions for teachers and students to practice at home. I also wrote a little guide book for teachers, those who are not familiar with the method. I explain in this guide book my philosophy and my vision, and what I am doing, why I wrote this method.

So I would suggest for those who would like to try the books, first you get this method book. And it comes in hard copy and digital, both on Amazon and my website. And it will give them an idea. The problem is teachers who live in America, this generation of teachers don't remember this old approach with big muscles first with finger number three, and they feel quite comfortable with five-finger position, because they've never tried the different. It's hard to convince them to try. But for six years that the method exists, many, many teachers wrote me that trying, using my method completely changed their teaching style. Some were so frustrated they were gonna give up teaching at all, and it brought them to absolutely new level of teaching.

Tim: Wow. Isn't that brilliant. That must make you as a writer and the developer of a method feel fantastic to hear that.

Irina: Yes, yes. I have probably thousands of those testimonials from teachers. I feel we all have to learn every day, and I respect so much people who don't wear their crown and say, "I know everything. Don't tell me anything," because I learn everyday from all this Facebook forums, and YouTube, and just listening to music. And reading, I keep reading many books second and third time, refreshing my knowledge every time, and gives me so much. At each age, I read the same book. I get more food for thoughts. And it's very, very important. And I keep looking at new methods and new ideas and people have them. There are wonderful ideas around.

Tim: Yeah. That's great. And I'm the same, and that's why I love doing these podcasts, because I get to share these great ideas with other people. With your method, do you have quite an aural approach? I'm guessing you probably do. So students doing a lot of listening and learning that kind of language of music before their reading? Or does it go quite quickly into reading from the beginning?

Irina: I really feel that pre-reading period is crucially important.

Tim: The pre-reading period.

Irina: Pre-reading period. It doesn't have to be long. With my students, it might take between four to eight weeks. But that's where we really work on rhythm, listening to music, playing by ear, and technical skills. I want them to feel without being concerned about what's written on the page. I want them to look at their hand, and see what they are doing.

Tim: And be able to focus on position, on the listening, the rhythm. I take the same approach, Irina. I've recently not even tried to attempt reading with my students for a good eight weeks with my most recent student. And in that time, as you say, learning rhythmic patterns, singing, composing, just doing everything that we can that doesn't involve reading I think is so, so important. So it's great to hear that. So you call that the "pre-reading phase." Does your method book give teachers skills or things to do in that pre-reading phase, or does "Tales of a Musical Journey" start at the reading phase?

Irina: No. At least half of the first book is completely devoted pre-reading stage.

Tim: Fantastic, yeah. Because I know that for many teachers who would start a new student on the first lesson with, "Here's middle C," or, "Here's a note on the piano, and here's how it looks on the book," giving them those skills for pre-reading is really important. So I'm sure the readers of your method would find that very helpful.

Irina: Absolutely.

Tim: So you mentioned that you have a philosophy. Can you give us what the primary philosophy of your teaching is?

Irina: I feel that every child deserves to be taught an instrument, whatever instrument it is. And of course, piano too. And also, no matter what the goals of this child or his parents for the future, they have to be taught properly. Giving them opportunity if they want to become musicians. For examples, you never know actually when you take a young student what will happen in 10 years or 12 years. I had students who had lessons and never mentioned they want to be musicians, and suddenly being a senior, the girl says, "You know, I want to try to play audition at the university," and she is graduating now with artistic diploma. And it happened on the last year when I taught her. So imagine if I didn't take it seriously from the first steps and taught her wrong, and then she told me that. I wouldn't feel good.

Of course, all children move at very different pace, and accomplish very different results. I don't expect everyone to be at exactly the same level when they graduate. But, I firmly believe that this primary stage of education is the most important, because it will affect the whole future life of a student, musical life. And it makes me very upset when I hear, "Ah, I'll teach the student couple years, and then I'll give it to other teacher." It means the teacher is not experienced, and the student's not gonna be learning correct habits from the beginning, and then the other teacher will suffer. Sometimes it's not even possible to correct all the bad habits.

Tim: Yeah. And for teachers that want...I mean we all want to do the right thing, obviously. But sometimes we teach the way we were taught, and that might not be the best way. Or we follow a method that doesn't follow the right sequence. What tips would you give teachers for, as you've done, learning about the best ways of teaching the youngest children? Is it about watching other teachers on YouTube? Is it about lots of reading, about trialing different things in their studio? How would you recommend they work out how to be the best teacher they can be for young students?

Irina: I feel that teachers who take young students have to be very knowledgeable, and very experienced, because teaching young beginners is very special area. I've heard a lot of college level professors who said, "I would never, ever touch a young student," and it's absolute true, because it's very special area. Teachers who would teach beginners, they have to be child psychologists. They have to be actors. They have to be narrators, storytellers, singers, clowns. They have to have that special personality. Even the tone of voice may change kids' interests to piano lessons. If teacher is talking all the time with monotone voice, how long young student can tolerate that, and the interest goes down with that.

So again, it's a special kind of personality. If teachers don't feel they can tell a story, they can jump up with the student and dance together, or jump up and down doing jumping jacks, just to bring...or a joke, make it fun, laugh together, then I would recommend not to take young kids. Start with older ones. Of course, they are all different. Not everybody has to do everything.

Tim: One of the things I love watching about your YouTube videos, and anyone that's listening or watching must go and watch your...have a look at your YouTube channel, because you're so positive with your students. It puts a smile on my face when I see you teach, because these students are just getting the...You're sort of, "Oh, that is just..." I don't know how you do it. I can't do it, because I can't do the accent so well.

But you do it...They're making the smallest little tiny movements, they're playing one note, and you just make it like they're the best thing in the world. And I think that's so important, and has obviously been such a great part of your success with those students. Can you tell us about a time when you really struggled in your teaching, because we all have those moments where we doubt ourselves. We don't know if what we're doing is right. When's a time when you really struggled?

Irina: Again, my hardest moment...I had two hardest periods in my teaching career. One when I started very young as a teacher, and thought I knew everything. And the other one when I started teaching in United States with method books with five-finger position. Those two were the hardest. And yeah, it took a lot of time for me to get to where I wanted to be.

Tim: But they're also the two things that have shaped what you're doing now. You wouldn't be a teacher without that experience as a child teaching, and you wouldn't have your method without seeing the U.S. method probably, so yeah, that's really great. Okay. Well look, I think we'll start wrapping it up. I was going to...there was a couple more questions here. So in regard to improvising and just creating music, do you have any ways that you love? Just little tips for teachers about getting those younger students, even in the pre-reading phase, to be making things up?

Irina: Yeah, actually in the pre-reading phase, we do it a lot. In "Tales," in my series, there are a lot of exercises which help my students to compose or improvise. And for example, right now, what I'm doing, because it's beautiful autumn season, I found actually one of the colleagues on the forum, "Tales of a Musical Journey," she found the site with autumn poems.

Tim: With the poems, did you say?

Irina: Yes. And they're very cute rhymes, like four lines, very easy, like, "Leaves are falling, leaves are falling, they fall on my nose. Leaves are falling, leaves are falling, they fall on my toes." Then they fall on the head. And then, the last line is, "Yellow, orange and red." So I offer my students, even the youngest one, to use...First of all, we clap this rhyme, and then I offer them certain amount of notes, depending where they are in the books. And first we start singing, how would we sing this rhyme, and then I show them how I would play, and offer them to try themselves. And some of them even write it down then, and we have it written down as their own song or melody. Sometimes it's even hands together, when student is a little bit older, I show them a few intervals. Not even chords at first, but for example fifths and sixths in tonic dominant, tonic subdominant dominant, and we create accompaniment to those melodies.

So I use every possibility to work on either playing by ear or composing a melody to the song, or creating a rhythm pattern, and then to that rhythm pattern, create a song. I use a lot of transposition. Practically, in first book, every song be transposed, and tried to play from all white key. And even those they don't know what sharp or flats are, I tell them, "If this note sound...if this sounds off, try to use the next white, or the next black key." And they love it. They feel it's so cool to play both.

Tim: Yes.

Irina: And we make a big deal when they find this note, I do. I mean every teacher has to have a toolbox of strategies to use at every lesson with young beginners, including all kind of activities. And even the slowest and the youngest students, they can be feeling entertained and interested and still progress very well at their own pace, and develop the right way, correct way musically and technically, if the teacher has all these tools.

Tim: Brilliant. Well, I think it's a great place to wrap up our conversation. It's been fantastic talking to you, Irina. You mentioned a Facebook group. Is that open to any teachers, or just the ones who are using your method?

Irina: To those who are using, and those who are interested to find out about it.

Tim: Great. Okay. We'll pop a link to the Facebook group in the show notes, but I assume they could also just search Facebook for "Tales of a Musical Journey."

Irina: Yes. I have a Facebook page, and the forum.

Tim: Fantastic. Great. What's your website? Where can people find out more about you?

Irina: Website is irinagorin.com.

Tim: Fantastic. We'll pop a link to that in the show notes as well. Thank you again, Irina. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you today. I've been looking forward to it for some time, and I know that other teachers are gonna get so much from the work that you are doing, and particularly your videos. And I would just say to you teachers who are listening, go and have a look at Irina teaching. She's amazing.

Irina: Thank you so much.

Tim: You're welcome. See you later.

Irina: Bye-bye.

Tim: Bye.

Have you used Tales of Musical Journey?

What did you find the most interesting about this approach to teaching beginners?

What did you think about the role of parents in Irina’s piano studio?

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About the Author

Tim Topham has one mission in life: to stem the tide of children quitting music lessons by helping teachers maximise student engagement through creativity, technology and innovation. Tim hosts the popular Creative Piano Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at timtopham.com and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, Californian Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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